The ‘500’ always opens with a bang

Published On April 20, 2016 » 3957 Views» By Donald Davidson » Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 39 days to go, IMS Historian Donald Davidson explains another cherished Indy 500 tradition.

More Donald Davidson: The Yellow Shirts | Origins of: the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” | “Back Home Again in Indiana” | Brick-kissing | The milk | The Pace Car Why Indy is a 500-miler | Why it’s 33 cars | How “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines” beganMore 100 days blogs

An aerial bomb has signaled the opening of the track on race morning every year since 1911. From the time the facility opened in 1909, up through 1947, all of the policing was conducted by the Indiana National Guard. For many years there was a series of bombs throughout the morning, starting with one-hour intervals and reducing to 15 minutes, 10 minutes and five minutes. The interval bombs were discontinued at some point in the 1950s, and the procedure for many years thereafter consisted of the gate-opening bomb followed several hours later by an alarmingly noisy cluster as the field of 33 cars negotiated the south end of the track on the first lap. This was discontinued sometime in the early 1990s, with the gate-opening bomb now being the only one that remains. In terms of efficiency and expense, it seems there could hardly be a more efficient and economical way of advising all stations around the circuit that it is time to open the gates than one straightforward bang!

24 May, 2015, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA IndyCar Sunday Race Day © 2015, Walt Kuhn

Race morning, 2015.


About The Author

Donald Davidson

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson, based at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, developed a passionate interest in the Indianapolis 500 as a teenager in England. Arriving at IMS in 1964, he delighted the racing community with his ability to recite year-by-year accounts of participants’ careers. Returning permanently in 1965, he was invited by Sid Collins to join the worldwide IMS Radio Network and was hired by Henry Banks as USAC statistician, remaining at USAC for almost 32 years. He was named Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian in 1998. Along with numerous television and radio assignments, raconteur Davidson has played host to the popular call-in radio show “The Talk of Gasoline Alley” on 1070 AM in Indianapolis during the month of May continuously since 1971. His writing credits include countless historical articles and columns, a pair of “500” annuals in 1974 and ‘75 and co-authorship with Rick Shaffer of the acclaimed “Autocourse Official History of the Indianapolis 500,” published in 2006.

So will there be any bombs going off on Sunday Morning May 1st this year?


...and the TV announcers would almost always explain on the first lap that those noises were signal bombs and not cars blowing up!